We are now in Sausalito California after sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge on Wednesday evening. Mark and his friend Steve flew to Port Angeles on Wednesday the 19th to check on the boatyard progress and work on a few projects prior to our trip. It took them most of the day to get from SeaTac airport to PA because President Obama was scheduled to fly into Boeing Field that morning and much of the airspace had been closed to commercial and private traffic. Eventually, Kenmore Air bussed their passengers from SeaTac to Boeing Field and on to Paine Field where they finally boarded a plane for the short flight to Port Angeles.
When they reached the boat they were discouraged to see that it was covered with the usual boatyard grime and that the bottom paint project had not progressed as far as they hoped. The staff at the yard were great though and assured them that they would be able to complete the project by Friday afternoon. Anne and her friend Carolyn had decided to wait until Thursday to fly to PA and we planned a Friday night departure for San Francisco Bay. Friday was hectic and stressful but by 4PM, "Blue Rodeo" was back in the water getting a thorough scrubbing and gear and provisions were being packed for the trip. Anne and Carolyn cooked dinner aboard while Mark and Steve lashed and stowed all of the gear and by midnight we started the engine and motored through the darkness out of the harbor. As it turns out, we were right on schedule as we had determined earlier that day that a late night departure was most favorable due to the winds and currents in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
We set out full of excitement and apprehension as we pointed the boat west toward the open sea. Steve and Mark traded watches through the night while we motor sailed through the fog fighting a moderate westerly wind and the left-over choppy seas from the previous afternoon's blow. Shortly after dawn the current induced chop gave way to a more steady roll as we began to feel the ocean swells. Eight hours after departure we turned the corner around Cape Flattery and set a course for San Francisco. We stuck with our plan to angle offshore until we reached a point about 50 miles off the coast where we expected the ocean swells and winds to be most favorable for the passage. We quickly settled into a routine where our team of four retired airline captains (sounds dangerous doesn't it?) took turns keeping watch during the daylight hours while those not on watch napped and did the usual house keeping chores. Each evening after dinner Anne and Carolyn would share the first watch until midnight when Mark would relieve them. Steve and Mark would trade three hour watches from then until 6AM when Anne and Carolyn would take over.
Overall, the wind and seas stayed moderate for the first two days and we enjoyed sunny skies. Everyone kept an eye out for whales and dolphins and we were rewarded with several sitings throughout the trip. At one point we were entertained by hundreds of dolphins of several different species, including a small black variety without dorsal fins. After reaching port, a Google search revealed that they were Rightwhale dolphins. We had never seen them before and it was especially entertaining to watch their torpedo shaped bodies squirt through the water and air as they put on a show for us. Anne, Steve and Carolyn hurried to the bow of the boat where they watched in awe as the dolphins took turns surfing the bow wave of our boat just inches below the surface. Shortly after the large group departed we saw a line of white, disturbed water approaching from our port side. We soon realized it was another group of dolphins swimming in what appeared to be a high speed chorus line straight toward us. They approached within a few feet to check us out then quickly sped away. The encounters left us feeling so fortunate to have been able to able have such an experience. It reminded us of the old Mastercard commercials where the costs of items are are listed and the net result is priceless. We were truly having the type of adventure that comes with a certain amount of expense, discomfort and sacrifice but is rewarded with truly priceless experiences. Later that evening a single dolphin swam near to the boat while Anne and Carolyn stood watch in the setting sun and slapped its tail several times with great gusto as if to say "look at me, look at me".
While motor sailing under sunny skies and in light winds off the Oregon coast we remarked that that part of the coastline was not living up to its fearsome reputation. Our assessment was to change suddenly that afternoon as the winds built in just moments from a comfortable 30 to 35 knots from the northwest to 45 to 50 knots including one gust to 60 knots. Before stronger winds hit, Anne and Carolyn took turns hand steering the boat as it surfed down the waves in the robust conditions. It was soon after Steve and Mark took their turns that the heaviest conditions hit and we found ourselves careening in and out of control at speeds up to 17.9 knots sending rooster tails of spray from bow to stern. The ocean surface quickly grew turbulent with streaks of spume everywhere and the tops of the wind waves breaking in cascades of frothy white water. When control of “Blue Rodeo” in the gusting winds and growing swells became difficult the crew made two attempts at reefing (reducing the area) the mainsail but found it jammed in the full hoist position. Mark and Steve speculated that it was due either to binding of the sail’s luff cars on the mask track or possibly due to friction at the mast head halyard sheave. At one point, the extreme force of a 60 knot gust caused "Blue Rodeo" to round-up into the wind despite Mark's efforts at the helm to keep her on course. While broadside to the breaking seas, the top of a wave splashed over our port quarter nearly soaking the crew and filling the cockpit with gallons of cold water. We quickly focused on regaining control of the boat and assessing the situation. Anne and Carolyn would later wonder out loud if they should have been afraid at that point. With too much sail area to continue on a broad reach, we were left us with just one option of running nearly straight down wind with full main and partially furled jib. While Mark and Steve traded stints at driving the boat on this challenging point of sail, Anne and Caroline worked in the cabin cleaning up the mess from our round-up and breaking wave episode. We were all discouraged to find how much water made it through the open companion way spraying much of the starboard side of the galley and main cabin. The howling winds and 50 plus knot gusts eventually subsided and despite the unwelcome salt water bath that we all took we were doing fine and even had time to smile with awe and delight as two dolphins joined us as we careened down the turbulent swells. They leapt high in the air, just feet from our boat, and dived back into our bow wave for a little fun of their own. After several hours of hand steering and the winds continuing to subside, Mark and Steve turned control of “Blue Rodeo” back to our auto pilot and the crew settled into our evening routine of standing watches and trying to get some rest. Mark and Steve decided to take the first evening watches and Carolyn served them hot meals to fuel them for the task. Working below with head down in the washing machine-like conditions proved too much for Anne's stomach and she had to make several trips to the head to be sick. Even though she felt miserable, Anne shared a moment of “comic relief” with Carolyn when she looked up into the head’s mirror making eye contact with her as she stood in the galley eating a bowl of chili. While Carolyn wolfed it down, Anne deposited a similar looking substance in the head’s sink. They both giggled at the irony. It had been quite a work out for all on board but we had worked extremely well as a team and our boat had fared well considering the abuse. We did have some minor damage however such as a tear in our dodger’s fabric window frame caused by the wall of water that came washing through the cockpit and two broken screws on the main-sheet traveler block. We would later find, to great disappointment, that the water surging along the starboard rail had also wrenched Anne's stand-up-paddle surfboard, strapped to the starboard lifelines in it’s padded bag, with such force that it was nearly broken in two by the lashing line. We all got a chuckle when, while surveying and assessing the damage, Anne would repeat over and over again “how much is that going to cost?”.
By midnight the wind and sea conditions were greatly improved and by early the next morning the wind was so light that we opted to start our trusty diesel engine in order to keep our speed up. We enjoyed calm seas and sunny conditions for the remainder of the day which gave us a chance to continue cleaning up from the previous day's excitement and get caught up with our rest. With the miles remaining to San Francisco steadily clicking off, our eagerness to get there and our anticipation of sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge grew by the minute. While motor sailing the next night with Carolyn on watch the engine suddenly quit. Soon the whole crew was awake. Mark assumed we had emptied one of our fuel tanks so he switched tanks and began the messy process of bleeding air from the fuel system. Unfortunately, restarting after the bleeding process proved more difficult than normal. Steve finally suggested switching to a different fuel filter and we were soon able to get the engine purring again. As we motored throughout the next day we put our heads together analyzing why the engine had quit. Mark had been carefully logging our engine operating times and had a hard time believing we had emptied one of our tanks. Carolyn and Mark made an effort to calibrate the fuel tank gauges with little success and Anne and Carolyn finally convinced Mark to open an inspection port on the tank to verify how much fuel remained. The inspection revealed that there was plenty of fuel remaining which allowed us to continue to motor toward our destination at high speed.
Later that day as we began to see glimpses of the California coastline and were treated to an encounter with number of whales that spouted, breached and raised their enormous flukes all around us. What a thrill! We all agreed that few encounters with nature are as grand as those with these enormous mammals. By early evening we sailed back into an area of fog and our view of the San Francisco Bay entrance was limited. In fact, we didn't actually see the Golden Gate Bridge until we were almost underneath it. Inside the bay, in the fading light, we past another awesome sight... this one man made. Anchored near our destination was the James Bond-like, futuristic, 387' motor yacht belonging to a young Russian billionaire. As we passed, enormous "garage doors" opened and two motor launches sped out shuttling guests to a shore side restaurant. The vessel's name is simply "A" and information about it and it's owner is available on the internet. The final challenge of the trip occurred during the next 30 minutes as we followed the narrow channel through numerous moored boats toward the marina dock. Entering an unfamiliar harbor at night is always stressful, especially when blinded by bright, shore side lights. Soon though, without any real drama, we were safely tied to the dock at Schoonmaker Point Marina where we warmly congratulated each other on the completion of a successful passage. With our dock lines made fast, we were soon off to the showers and a celebratory drink and dessert at water side restaurant. Later, back on the boat, we all collapsed into our bunks and, for the first time in days, slept in silence without the constant motion of seas.